Sunday, September 26, 2010

But did it REALLY happen?

My pastor Tommy Sparger gave a sermon this past weekend about Adam & Eve. Actually, the sermon was about the gospel and how Jesus desires to release us from shame...but the message started out in the garden as he took the audience through the concept of original sin, etc etc.

While I was listening, something struck me. There seems to be a big difference in focus between when people preach about Adam & Eve vs people who talk about Adam & Eve. I've heard plenty of sermons about those early chapters in Genesis and usually about all different kinds of topics: shame, guilt, sin, obedience, failure, temptation, grace, salvation, protection, hiding, etc etc. Those are the focuses of the sermons you hear from the stage.

But I've also had plenty of conversations about Adam & Eve as well...and very few (if any) seemed to have dealt with those issues. They all appeared to be focused around one question: "Did it really happen?"

Were Adam & Eve real people?
Did this story really occur? Was there really a garden? Really a tree? Really a talking snake? Really this? Really that?

Underneath these questions, through deeper conversation, there is underlying concern. Do I have to believe in these fairy tale-ish details to believe in Jesus?

If I'm honest, I think the "Did it really happen?" question that we constantly ask is the wrong question.

Look at it a slightly different way for a second. Let's say that the story of Adam and Eve were never actually written down, but instead it was told along by word of mouth. Imagine old men & women passing down the story to children at family gatherings. Circles of kids crowded around after a large meal to hear their grandparents tell them one of their favorite stories. A story that shows people who had direct instruction from God, deliberately disobeyed them...and God's response. How he took care of them after wards.

Imagine even that this story were never heard until around 30 AD. And some backwoods Jewish carpenter was telling it to a herd of people as they were leaving their weekend temple service. Would the people in the crowd have asked "Did this really happen?" or would they have instead focused on the meaning of the story?

When we read the stories that Jesus told, recorded in the gospels, do we look at them with the same critical eye and say:

"Yeah, but did that really happen?" 

Do we examine the parable of the prodigal son and try to figure out the identity of the literal family whom Jesus was referencing? Do we conclude that God could only possibly be represented by the loving father in that story if the loving father were a real physical being somewhere in the world at some point in time?

Do we do that with any of Jesus' other parables? Do they only hold value to us if the characters in them were "real" people at some historical moment in some physical location on the earth?

Or when we read those stories, do we not think about that at all? Do we make the assumption that the stories Jesus told weren't real in the sense that the characters physically existed at some point in history...but instead they were real in an entirely different way.

Is it too hard to imagine that parables can be written as well as spoken?

Maybe the story is not about something that "happened," but about something that "happens."

Maybe the story is a representation of the reality we currently find ourselves in. That it's not about someone else who came before us...but it's about us.

Maybe when we look to discover if the story happened before, we blind ourselves to it happening now. Today. To us. We lose ourselves as the main characters when we bury ourselves in trying to discover the "reality" of the story.

We don't realize our own deliberate and intentional disobedience. Our desire to replace God with ourselves.

We can't see ourselves as running naked through a garden foolishly trying to hide from God.

We refuse to acknowledge that we're trying to pass the blame to others.

We won't accept God still taking care of us, despite how horribly we screwed up.

Maybe we keep asking the question "Did it really happen?" because we don't want to ask the real question, "Is this really happening?" Am I in that role? Am I trying to play the part of God in my own life? 

I don't think we can honestly answer the question "Did it really happen?" with anything other than an emphatic YES!

Because we can immediately recall when we fit the role. 

When we play the part. 

We can tell you when we take the apple from the tree. When we listen to that voice in our ear, telling us that God doesn't know what he's talking about.

We can tell you exactly where we run when we discover what we've done. Where we hide. How we try to explain away our shame and pretend that nothing happened.

We can describe with perfect clarity how we attempt to pawn the responsibility off on others. On those we love most. How in our moment of weakness we actually try to take them down with us.

We already know the story. We know the reality of it. 

We live it. 

It's us.

And right along with us is the God who comes after us in the cool of the day. Calling out "where are you?" as if he didn't know.

The God who explains how things will now be different because of what we did. Who tells us the natural consequences of our actions. Even as it breaks his heart.

The same God who doesn't keep us in our shame, doesn't destroy us, doesn't condemn us, doesn't mock us and make an example out of us. Instead, he covers our shame with a sacrifice and amazingly continues the relationship with us, every time.